New Op-ed: Manufacturing Racial Anxiety to Blame the President
Manufacturing Racial Anxiety to Blame the President
Democrats and their enablers in the media used to blame the widespread availability of guns for mass shootings. After El Paso they have a new villain: They blame President Trump.
Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Beto O’Rourke, and a host of other 2020 Democrats as well as the cable “news” barkers have all declared, as a matter of fact, variations on the theme. “President Trump’s racist rhetoric demonizes minorities and causes white supremacist terrorists to commit murder,” they insist.
This “guns don’t kill people, President Trump’s words kill people” narrative has even been given a pseudoscientific name: stochastic terrorism.
It’s defined as “the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
The way CNN used “stochastic terrorism” to drive its El Paso coverage narrative, you would think counterterrorism operatives or FBI profilers developed this concept.
But you would be wrong. “Stochastic terrorism” is the brainchild of G2Geek, an anonymous DailyKos blogger and conspiracy theorist who compares ICE detention facilities to concentration camps and says of our immigration policy, “The adjective ‘Hitlerian’ is not too strong.”
Of course, such dubious parentage did not stop CNN from grabbing the baby and running with it.
But if you take a close look at the concept of “stochastic terrorism” what you find is less than meets the eye, a rhetorical sleight of hand employing the fallacies of post hoc ergo propter hoc and correlation equals causation to reverse engineer a sought-after conclusion: Orange Man Bad.
There are more than a few problems with “stochastic terrorism.”
One could be called “the Son of Sam problem.” Just because someone says they hear something doesn’t mean it’s really there. The serial killer who terrorized New York City in 1977 confessed that his neighbor’s backyard dog commanded him to kill young women. The lesson to draw from this is not “beware of dog.” It’s that the mind finds “reasons” to “explain” anything. Severely troubled minds hear dogs talk; the less troubled hear “dog whistles.”
Then there is what might be called “the Marshall McLuhan problem”: “the medium is the message.”
If “mass communications” are stirring up “random lone wolves,” that makes the media part of the crime—they are at least the weapon or high capacity magazine if not the terrorist itself.
And if one accepts the premise that “guns don’t kill people, cable news and the internet kill people,” one could conclude that limits must be placed on the media, just as (some say) limits must be placed on the high-capacity magazines or “assault rifles.”
Certain media companies are already heading in this direction, with speech codes, ever changing “community standards” and banning (mostly conservative) voices from their social media and online platforms.
Then there is the Hollywood problem. If one accepts the premise that mass communications can incite “statistically predictable but individually unpredictable violent acts,” does that make Hollywood, whose hyperviolence and sex-soaked product saturates our culture, culpable?
One of the leading proponents of the stochastic terrorism theory is CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, who served in the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration. She began her career in the Justice Department civil rights division and she says President Clinton tapped her for the National Commission on Terrorism “because of all of the issues between civil rights and national security, like surveillance and privacy and profiling.”
Despite her civil liberties background, Kayyem is pushing a dubious legal theory that threatens free speech rights.
Under the headline “There are no lone wolves” Kayyem writes in the Washington Post:
Public speech that may incite violence, even without that specific intent, has been given a name: stochastic terrorism, for a pattern that can’t be predicted precisely but can be analyzed statistically. It is the demonization of groups through mass media and other propaganda that can result in a violent act because listeners interpret it as promoting targeted violence—terrorism.
Notice how Kayyem is slapping the terrorist label on “public speech that may incite violence, even without that specific intent” [emphasis added]
It is not reassuring that a Homeland Security official (who would be back there should Democrats win the White House) believes in crime without intent and criminalizing speech because “a listener,” however unhinged, may “interpret it as promoting targeted violence.” Don’t let your dog loose in the backyard—your neighbor may “interpret” its barks as commands to kill young women.
Kayyem doesn’t stop there. She goes on to blame President Trump for the El Paso massacre, even citing the now thoroughly discredited claim that the president said white supremacists in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Talk about hearing what you want to hear.
Which brings us to what may be the biggest problem in the media’s stochastic terror narrative, which is, if we accept the terms of the narrative, we would have to conclude the media is stoking the fires of racial division in our country by falsely accusing the president of racism.
When President Trump (or anyone else) criticizes open borders, the media provocatively cries “Racism!”
When President Trump criticizes the inflammatory rhetoric and avowedly socialist goals of members of Congress, the media cries “Racist!”
When the president blasts the crime and corruption in Democrat-controlled precincts, the media cries “Racism!”
When the president resurrects “America, Love it or Leave it,”—a challenge from the 1960s directed against hippies and anyone unsatisfied with America including lapsed Daughters of the American Revolution—the media again cries “Racism!”
When the president says he wants to Make America Great Again—all of America, black, white, brown, yellow, and red—the media cries “Racist!” and tells the country he’s really saying he wants to make America white again.
Day in and day out, the media gives its megaphone to fabulists who confess to hearing “dog whistles” and finding code words between the lines of plain text—people who see white hoods where the rest of us see red baseball caps.
The media, like those commentators, hears what it wants to hear. They loathe President Trump, believe he is a racist and will find the nonexistent “evidence” to confirm their bias.
Searching for a needle in a haystack, they have built a racist straw man.
By continually calling the president, large swathes of the population and society itself "racist," the media is not only stoking anxiety, it is sending the message to the sickos that racial hatred is pervasive, acceptable, that the country is behind them.
Rather than isolating the actual racists, the media is telling them they are the mainstream—emboldening them.
Thus, in the paradox of the self-fulfilling prophecy, the media has created the climate of racial hatred that it blames on the president.
If we accept the dubious premises and terms of stochastic terrorism, we would have to find the media guilty—but not for the reasons they think.
-Curtis Ellis is Senior Policy Director for America First Policies.